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{2Q                                                                                                           B- POLEVOI
unsightly stumps of the old ferryman, and again he saw
the latter crawling on the sand into the river like a
monkey.
"Alexei," the Commissar called him softly.
"What?" answered Alexei in a distant, absent voice.
"You've got to, my boy."
In that instant it seemed to Alexei that it was not
the ferryman but he himself who was crawling on stumps,
and that his girl, his Olya, was standing on the sandy
riverside in a bright-coloured frock blown about by the
wind, light, radiant and beautiful, gazing at him intent-
ly and biting her lips. That's how it will be! And he
broke into a fit of convulsive, silent weeping, burying his
face in his pillow. Everybody in the ward was deeply
affected. Stepan Ivanovich, grunting and groaning, got
out of his bed, put on his robe and, shuffling his slippered
feet and holding on to the bed rails, hobbled towards
Alexei's bed, but the Commissar held up a warning finger,
as much as to say: "Don't interfere. Let him have a good
cry."
And indeed, Alexei felt better after that. Soon he
calmed down and even felt that relief a man always feels
when he has, at last, settled a question that had been
tormenting him for a long time. He uttered not a word
until the evening, when the orderlies came to take him
to the operating theatre. Nor did he utter a word in that
dazzling white room. Even when he was told that the
state of his heart would not permit his being put to sleep
and that the operation would have to be performed under
a local anaesthesia, he only nodded. During the operation
he uttered neither a groan nor a cry. Several times Vasily
Vasilyevich, who performed the simple operation himself
and, as usual, growled angrily at the nurses and assistants,
looked anxiously at the assistant who was watching Alexei's
pulse.
When the bones were sawn the pain was frightful; but
Alexei was now accustomed to bear pain, and he did not
even understand what these people in white robes and
with faces masked with white gauze were doing at his
feet. When he was being carried back to the ward, how-
ever, he lost consciousness.
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